Homestuck Vol. 8 - Commentary
5.4k words across 22 entries.
Micheal Guy Bowman:
“Calamity” was inspired by the very same update that inspired the Pantskat craze - the image of Gamzee returning, Warhammer of Zillyhoo in hand is translated into two sonic elements, ie honks and chanting. What I’ve enjoyed really intensely about Andrew’s sense of humor in Homestuck and his other adventures is his gradual elevation of silly details onto the pedestals of utter drama, and with this track I tried to recreate that. You laughed at the honks and the chanting before - now your heart races (at least I hope).
There was a certain difficulty in making “Calamity” really work for me. I had a couple of different sounds I was attempting all at once, each working on their own but sort of fighting for control when mashed together. The introduction and conclusion of the song using a theme from “Walk-Stab-Walk” needed to be really punchy, while I really needed the middle of the song to glide, and the connecting bits with the chanting needed to build and build in tension. There are a lot of different sounds in the song’s palette, the most difficult of which to utilize was the enormous saw synth that dominates the middle. Getting that thing to be grand without utterly overpowering the rest of the song was incredibly difficult.
Overall I was really satisfied with how much excitement there is in this song. It’s got a big simple melody but it doesn’t outstay its welcome. As the album opener, it sets up the stakes and excitement of Homestuck without sort of beating the point into you by lasting too long. I think of it as a cousin to “Sburban Jungle” or at least another song approached in that dramatic, electronic way.
The countdown sample is from a NASA recording, I believe it’s the launch of Apollo 11.
Do You Remem8er Me
Alas poor Vriska. This scene stood out quite a bit from the Scrapbook Near-end-of-act Scratch-a-thon as being yet more humility to Vriska as a character - first hinted at during John's talk with her around the whole 'lifdoff' time (which is also why most of the song is taken from lifdoff.)
The idea was to create something vaguely romantic and a bit tragic for the whole 'd8' thing. I used lifdoff as a starting point because that's become my sort of unofficial 'John' theme - It's quite light and goofy but reasonably heroic and fantastical. Showtime shows up at around 2:17, shortly followed by a slightly modified lift from Death of the Lusii (as mentioned previously in this topic). After that it slides into an additionally modified version of Ruins/Awakening for reasons that are hopefully obvious and also because I like that tune
The main reason I made this is because Vriska's had a but few moments when she wasn't terrorizing everybody and generally acting the huge bitch. Add to this the whole 'fat vriska' thing, and the very bombastic music she's had thus far... It was nice to give her last bit of humility a soundtrack.
And the reason Vriska's actual theme doesn't show up anywhere is because I find it difficult to work with as it's kinda crazy /excuse.
It took me about half a day to get the tambourines sounding decent and they still don't sound like what I imagined they would...
Also I was trying to channel some of the style from the music of the Little Big Adventure games. The soundtrack for thems' awesome and ya'll should go listen to it!
“DYRM” was essentially cre8ed as a sort of 8acking track to the John and Vriska ‘date’ sequence (around about here). The idea was to do a sort of schlocky romantic 8allad that combined elements of Johns goofiness but with the tragedy that hey - Vriska’s dead. Over the course of it, we travel through John and Vriska’s memories, and she’s trying to get him to remem8er something important, so there’s that element too. It’s kinda sad, 8ut in a way it’s also a 8it of a cele8ration of Vriska - She’s surprisingly polarizing with a lot of the fan8ase, as the 8est characters often are... :p
I can’t immedi8ly recall if the phrase “Do You Remem8er Me?” is said by Vriska........ I think it was, 8ut it’s a faff trying to navigate around that 8it of the comic (I often like na88ing song titles out of the dialogue itself - That’s where At The Price Of O8livion came from and of course Sea Hitler’s Water Apocalypse. If not, well it felt like as good a title as any. :p The ‘8’ helps immediately recognise the subject matter.
It’s primarily “lifdoff”, which I started using a sort of personal theme of John. Other slight inspirations for this track are “Anthem Part 2” from The Truman Show and a little 8it of the music of Little 8ig Adventure (primarily the use of woodwinds/percussion).
It starts off with a simple lightened lifdoff, which carries it for a while. The percussion at 1:09 was fun to sequence - It’s mostly just a collection of taiko samples from the EWQL play library that are quite fun to work with, particularly some the articulation (The ‘roll’ you hear is one of ‘em). What I think works quite well is the power of the Taikos with the lightness of the woodwinds - Gives it quite an emotional punch.
1:33 is almost directly L8A inspired (The layering of the woodwind melody on 8rass I’m sure I got from there). At this point we’re 8uilding up to play the ‘Death of the Lusii/Awakening’ 8it with a sort of alternate chord progression, but we sneak in a Showtime reference around 2:16.
2:26 is meant to directly correlated to These Two panels and is a reference to this track.
Then it 8uilds up to the main section of Awakening at around 3:30. Given that the main theme is a sort of dreamlike afterlife, it felt appropri8 ::::p
And we end! Uncertain cadences all round!
Overall there’s quite a 8it I like about this one. The Percussion doesn’t vary much, which lets it down I think (It’s 8asically just the same loop for most of the song, something I’m hilariously guilty of in most everything I make :p) but it did the jo8 in giving Vriska a good sendoff.
Oh yeah - The reason it doesn’t use any of Vriska’s theme is because I find that theme a 8it........ All over the place ::::p Don’t get me wrong, it’s a cool 8it of music, 8ut I don’t find it as easy to play a8out with than other tracks. 8lame my laziness!
I also fully suspect I missed some ‘8’s somewhere........ This stuff’s harder than it looks. God help me if I try to commentary another gorram Terezi track ::::p
What started off as me meandering about with slightly odd chord progressions became a rather meandering piece in general. Originally labeled Nether, at least as the piece began to formulate, the first part quickly developed in what I hoped would be a style reminiscent of Russell Brower’s music for Outland in World of Warcraft, primarily the Outland Suite and Netherstorm (what the first name referenced).
I completed most of the piece without drums or effects at first, but felt something was missing. After messing around with some different bits of drum samples, I found beats that were suitable for what I was going for, and those helped give more definition to the meter of the piece as much of it was long chords that made it hard to distinguish at times, then added some occasional filter effects to increase the overall spacey feel.
After everything was in place, I listened through it multiple times and just began to imagine Karkat’s monologue about how everything was his fault and the phrase “Galactic Cancer” stuck.
Ocean Stars Falling
Michael Guy Bowman:
The Squiddles! album gets no love. There, I said it. I’ve mentioned before how awesome it is and how dramatically it has undersold compared to the rest of our material, but apparently everyone is too terrified of its My Little Pony meets Cthulu approach to give it a shot. Trust me, you’ll like it more than you think you will.
Anyway, one of the most surprising tracks on that particular album is “Ocean Stars”, a peaceful, mysterious little ditty imagined by Mark with a nautical theme in mind. I thought it had a beautiful little structure, and I guess the song must have stuck with me because at some point I found myself playing its chords over and over on my keyboard faster and faster until I was sure it would make for a great little indie rock inspired track. So I did just that.
This song takes its cues most heavily from “Regatta de Blanc” by the Police and “Life in Technicolor” by Coldplay - the meditatively simple rock backup is accompanied by a huge chorus of wordless vocals provided by countless overdubs of Tavia and myself. These middle voices are bookended by the twinkling bell sounds in the high range and the rumbling drums and guitar in the low range to make for a very full mix that really surprised me with its depth. I threw in some slowed-down bubble sounds (the same samples from “Mister Bowman Tells You About the Squiddles”) to create the ocean ambiance, something I’d really gotten the chance to hear on a scuba dive I’d done over the summer.
This is another example of a song that has the “just right” feeling about its length. I could probably have easily repeated the vocals endlessly as though I was attempting to induce transcendental meditation - it would probably have had the same effect as “Hey Jude” or any number of other great songs. Owing though to my sense that this album was going to be a long one (my contributions alone come out to more than 20 minutes of music) I decided to capitalize on having achieved the harmony and just let it end when its thought was fully expressed, not unlike the original composition by Mark.
Michael Guy Bowman:
Before going into a description of this track, I must make a long-overdue rebuttal to the factors that overshadowed its reception. Yes, I know this song and its track art pertain to the Wayward Vagabond. Yes, I know it’s sad that Andrew “killed off” the Wayward Vagabond on the same day that this album was released. No, I had no idea that would happen nor do I care how incongruous the song’s mood seems in relation to that particular plot point.
Anyway, now that I finally said my keep on that, “Escape Pod” was a really really fun track to do. It’s a rock track with a feelgood video game attitude - I’ve heard it described as Sonic music a lot, though to be fair my main reference were Nintendo games, particularly Earthbound from which I borrowed the deliberately fake brass. It also shares some similarities with the Mario sound, kind of really owing to the competitive games such as Mario Kart and Mario Party.
The track also pulls a lot from actual rock music - the Roxy Music track “Street Life” was a big cue here, and the start-stop structure on the second chorus was really inspired by Tally Hall’s track “Greener” of which the effect can only be described in exotic dance. I really wanted to pull out the stops on this one and make it catchy as hell, but apparently the two tracks book-ending it on Volume 8 steal its thunder.
What more can be said about it? This is about as totally poppy (or perhaps J-poppy) as I get. Compared to stuff like “Greenhouse” and “Squiddle Samba” this track is right up my alley. It in contrast with some of the other stuff that I’ve made appearing on the very same album (the minimalist piece “Gust of Heir” which I collaborated on with James Dever comes to mind) you’ll see that I can go just as far in the saccharine direction as I can into the abstract. For me range has always been an asset I’ve felt was important to nurture, so with Volume 8 I set the pace for my work ethic on Ithaca in terms of never settling to have “found my sound” no matter how well any one idea works.
Michael Guy Bowman:
Uh oh, Jit and I showed up to the album with the same song idea. That’s like two girls showing up the party in the same dress. Awkward! Good thing for Jit and I that, like the two girls in that famous scenario, we each have our own swagga and wear those dresses like the hot young messes we are. Wow, don’t quote me on that. (Too late - DPF)
Anyway, while “Frog Forager” is almost immediate in its “aw man, yeah, it’s THIS kind of tune” factor for avid listeners of Homestuck music, my ditty “Frog Hunt” seems to hit a lot of people out of left field. Maybe it’s because I was busy surprising myself with this one as well.
I’ve mentioned Weather Report a few times as an influence, and while I can’t bring even a fraction of that band’s musicianship to my work, I really attempted to bring their sense of atmosphere to the piece. There’s a lot of elements thrown in there - the wacky time signature (17/8 if I recall correctly), the meandering syncopated piano, the funk breaks, all that latin percussion, plus a pile of odd sound effects. I threw in some frog ambiance using some really odd synthesizers and a toy accordion as well.
The point of this song was to kind of put the action, the drama, and all that teenage chemistry on hold so I could focus on a moment in the story that might be just a little bit more peaceful. Going on a safari for frogs on a newly-awakened alien forest world seems to beckon a very different angle than the heated stakes typically associated with Homestuck. Plus, I’ve always felt that the environment of Homestuck deserves a little more attention given that nearly 99% of all art generated by the fans are homages to their favorite characters and not the fantastic places imagined by Andrew.
That’s a remix of Terra and (obviously) Frost.
Why? Well, I wanted Terra to be in Homestuck and sound more like a video game rock or metal song.
And because the fight of Dave and Jade vs. Jack was an interesting event, so that’s how the song came to be.
This was an idea borne of two things. Firstly the Dave & Jade vs Noir battle in the banner (Original title was 'Redshift'), and secondly a post-scratch Dave trying to regroup with all the kids (hence - 'Unite' - keeping to the kind of single-world direction thing HS has going for it i.e. Descend, Ascend, Cascade, etc).
The main premise was to have quite a hefty beat (Dave), bass - including a slap bass solo (Jade), piano (John) and violin (Rose). The premise being as the song continues each part contributes until the end, where all 4 play in sync (hence... er... 'Synchronization').
There's the tiniest influence from Showtime (again). It was also my first attempt at some vague chiptuniness in a while, which may or may not have worked... You decide!
The breakbeat drum thing was also fun to do.
The idea behind this guy was something similar to the traditional idea of some HS songs being about movement (“Descend”, “Ascend”, “Upward Movement”), so in this case it’s 4 things moving, together as one. It was becoming reasonably clear that post-scratch, we’d be separating The beta kids up a bit, and ideally, once the dust settled, they would all meet up again - This track’s effectively the kids overcoming whatever barriers in their way to unite.
That was the original idea, anyway.
It was primarily Dave centered, because in my personal interpretation of Dave I’ve always seen him as a bit of Roadie - always working behind the scenes to help people out in a lateral manner - as opposed to facing shit head on. He’s also (and again this is personal interpretation) occasionally presented as the least capable of the 4. Part of it presumably stems from the contrast between Bro, who is so frighteningly capable it hurts, and living in that shadow while trying to emulate him but not quite reaching it is quite a defining trait of Dave.
That’s not to say he’s useless, I mean he’s died less than John, and he’s also not afraid to think laterally about problems and cheat (“Shenanigans”), but there’s been a few bits where you get the feeling he wishes he was a bit more of the hero his kin are.
Unite Synchronization is essentially a chance for a Strider to shine, to get the band back together and to prepare an ass kicking.
We start with a moment of contemplation, or at least an establishing shot of somewhere. Then bam - We’re moving. The main hook of this piece is the C - G# - D# - G# pattern, which is probably primarily influenced from Sonata Arctica’s “The Cage” (Though The Cage is a different key and pattern, but the progression is similar and just has a really nice epic feel).
At 0:29 we get the main theme of US played on piano - We’re representing John here. Throughout the song I pull in the associated kids instruments but make sure to constantly have the drums going - As if Dave’s grabbing each one individually and playing alongside them. The bass is supposed to be in a constant “running” kind of theme throughout the track. An unbelievably cliched dance-y snare drum fill leads us out into the beginning of the middle section.
The guitar’s actually the same guitar sample I used in just about everything these days, but gated - I haven’t done any gating for yonks and figured for the sort of dance-y nature of the track it’s probably not a bad choice.
At 1:09, we get the alternate-Showtime (The first few notes are the main melody of Showtime), then at 1:24 we’re back into US main melody. This is all done of Violin, which is of course Rose’s signature instrument. I also like the harmony on this one...
1:40’s where I try my hand at some breakbeats. These are actually quite difficult, and since the original slicing sounded a bit odd I also overlap a standard drum loop on top of it - The result is a ridiculous amount of percussion for a solo and a bit of funky panning for good measure.
The break is essential. Even Striders’ needs to pause for breath.
With the bass coming in we’re in Jade territory at 1:56. The bass solo here is kinda pulled out of anywhere, but has a kind of Sonic-the-Hedgehog feel to it.
2:20 we bring the percussion back in (A bar late, I love the delay there) and the violin’s brought more harmony with it. Now here the sensible thing to do to keep up the original metaphor is to have the Piano, Slap Bass AND violin playing (Geddit? At this point all the Kids are together and rocking out) but for some reason I went with a bunch of other voices. I guess there’s still bass.... And the choir could maybe be John singing along? I’m not sure... Potentially missed a good opportunity there... But I’m still happy with it.
And that’s US in a nutshell!
So despite it not being the exact context original thought of, the 2-part Flash actually manages to fit the original theme albeit with different kids. Plus it’s Strider centric, so that’s another plus, and once again I get to dramatically cut to silence while someone dies :D
But then everyone’s alive by the end of it, so that’s got to be a record turnaround!
It is remarkably disturbing how seriously on the ball Dirk is. Not only does he paradox up his own reincarnation with a bucket and his own head, he manages to resurrect two ladies and get them and himself time-warped to Jake.
This after his little presentation on Derse with Hearts’ head.
I’d like to see Dave match that. :p
Someone sent me a PM asking for some commentary about my two MSPA songs, so here it is. (source)
Mark J. Hadley:
I made the theme for this a long time ago for an RPG a friend was making, but then cancelled. I still really liked the theme, so I modified it slightly and repurposed it for Homestuck. Out of everything I've done for Homestuck, it's still one of my favorites.
Gust of Heir
Michael Guy Bowman:
Two of the tracks I put on Volume 8 were collaborations with other Homestuck musicians, something I’ve been meaning to do more of because two heads are usually better than one. The first of the two was “Gust of Heir”, a track that James Dever wrote and for which I did the production.
James and I are both fans of minimalism, specifically the work of Philip Glass. An eerie-looking autographed program from the Philip on Film tour graces the wall of my room, and the primary piece of music that got me interested in composition is Einstein on the Beach, a five-hour opera consisting largely of slowly-evolving repeated figures using chanted numbers and solfege. Those otherwise unfamiliar might know his music better from the many movies he’s scored including Secret Window, The Truman Show, and The Hours.
Anyway, I knew right away where James was coming from when he sent me a midi demo of “Gust of Heir” though originally it was arranged as a piano solo. Without access to a pro recording situation as on the Sburb piano suite, we knew there would have to be an alternate solution, hence the electronic approach. I played pretty heavily with a set of new sounds, specifically the soundfonts of Ethan Winer, an audio professional whose work was recommended by Radiation a good while back.
As I have on many occasions I took cues from Oblique Strategies to get some ideas for the arrangement. Part of the intrigue in producing this piece was that it was fully written, meaning that in some ways I was boxed-in to a complete journey for the song to take musically yet in others free to really explore and discover a unique sound for the song. I really played toggling a slew of effects until this tune became rendering hell for my computer. I stepped a bit outside my own range of comfort and got some drum loops from Clark Powell to really polish off the piece, adding a touch that otherwise would probably have eluded me.
Bargaining with the Beast
Bargaining With the Beast was a doozy. With little conscious attempts at maintaining structure (other than the section after the intro, which appears a few times to hold things together), it can come off as a wild ride through a bunch of interesting ideas just sort of strung together like a glass mobile made with craft glue and shiny twine. And that is a pretty accurate description.
The piece was sort of an experiment for me, filled with a lot of concepts that might even have needed a separate piece to flesh them out properly, but I made this piece with the Volume 8 submissions deadline looming over head (I think it was a little under a week until final decisions on tracks were supposed to be).
This is also an example of a piece where I set out with a clear mindset for what I wanted. Seeing there was no piece based on Echidna and Jade’s encounters (Radiation didn’t show us his tracks until around when the order was being decided hehe), I wanted something majestic and regal, something befitting of a monstrous queen in ancient stone halls of a frozen world. Eventually it developed into a sort of audio tour of Echidna’s palace and highlighted the conversation, never fully revealed, that took place between Jade and Echidna as they struck a deal.
Questant’s Lament is one of my favorite tracks that I’ve made. Originally for The Wanderers, because there weren’t any WQ tracks and I liked her portrayal in the comic, I wanted something regal, almost stoic, but also forlorn.
With the beginning, I imagined her away from the others in their camp, sitting alone on some stone at night and listening to an old music box, one of few possessions that she could have salvaged from Prospit. From there she reminisces, from her perspective, on the progression of the session and her foresight of and departure from the impending devastation of Prospit.
In the end, she closes the trinket, accepts her new fate, and returns to her fellow exiles.
Hah! If 'Sneaking music' was a genre, here's another one to the mix.
Basically, heavily influenced by the Pink Panther theme (You know the one). While making this all I could imagine was a bizarre Andrew Hussie Elmer Fudd hunting 'Scwatches'...
More or less my first attempt to do something in this style. Also, surprisingly, most of it was played live on keyboard into the sequencer (not something I normally do) and then heavily quantized to fix my wonky playing. It gives it a slightly more organic feel, most noticeable on the chords during the 'Explore' section at the end (Which may also owe a little bit to the Monkey Island soundtrack).
Basically a bit of music for Andrew's huntin' of Scratch shortly before the end of act. Included is the "AAAAAHHH FUCKING WOLF!!" moment for good measure (That was added after the first draft to Rad's suggestion). There was even talk of getting some grumbly vocals from the man 'imself, but alas...
Had quite a bit of fun doin' this one. Also quite proud of the name Even if I do have to occasionally explain it to people who don't read the comic...
Havoc began as an intro section for another song I made a while back but I quite liked the melody and decided to make a separate track out of it. I submitted it to Homestuck as I felt the chiptune nature of the piece fit in with the comic's style and I'd been wanting to write a 'Strife' type tune for some time.
The track itself has a lot of C64 elements in the percussion and synths that blend into more powerful sounds for a more Drum and Bass style which is something I quite like to do with my music.
Drift into the Sun
Drift Into the Sun started off as me trying to emulate the opening choir track of a black metal EP. Soon some big drums and some spacey guitars found their way into the mix (in my attempts to make something on the line of ambient black or doom metal). Finally, I added Dave’s “blast off” to help Rose with a metal-ified version of Atomyk Ebonpyre (which people keep requesting a full version of... maybe).
This was another track that I had a clear design for, following as best as I could the events surrounding Rose and Dave’s chat on Derse before creating the Green Sun, focusing more on the atmosphere surrounding the debacle than what they talked about.
After putting the original version up for the team to see, Plazmataz offered to spruce things up. And they did. And it was awesome. And then Radiation said he could make some crazy drums for the last section. And he did. And it was awesome too.
And that was how Virginia was founded!
Then we’ve got Infinity Mechanism. I am not sure what to say about it. I played live guitar and cello on it. It was one of the first full guitar based things I wrote for MSPA and the first that I used my computer to record rather than a Tascam mixing board + studio that I had used on my very old works.
Its mechanical sound and return to the beginning at its end reminded me of Beat Mesa, and it kind of became my own sort of theme music for The Scratch. Also it is now the first track written by me to be used in an animation and it is amazing.
Michael Guy Bowman:
“Revered Return” began as a track called “Dirgeish”, a .pxtone composition that Nick had completed some time ago but never managed to squeeze into an album. Because as a chip tune it had been long overlooked, I decided to take a whack at producing it in a different style for inclusion on Volume 8. I had been looking for a piece that would work as a rock tune, and “Dirgeish” really struck me because of the heavy involvement of drums, its steady pace, and dynamic structure.
The unique challenge of arranging “Revered Return” was pinning down exactly what was what - “Dirgeish” had maximized use of its resources as an electronic composition, shifting instrumentation several times in ways that wouldn’t translate to a rock context. I found myself in a very subjective position, kind of picking and choosing what things would stay in and what things would be changed, while overall trying to maintain the original structure of the song.
The structure I think might be the most unique part of “Revered Return” - it doesn’t waste time by really repeating itself a lot. Nine out of ten times I work on a song I find myself writing or arranging something that moves in a very basic structure like ABAB or AABA or other variants, etc. “Dirgeish” gave me the challenge of establishing coherency in a piece that seemed to move almost completely linearly, and I made sure to preserve its sort of ABCDEFGBA-type structure in arranging “Revered Return” for Volume 8.
Remember that thing about ORGMaker? Yeah, this song, too. Except add me asking Andrew Huo to help finish it and Bowman to ramp it up, and you’ve got Revered Return. :3
How Do I Live (D8 Night Version)
Michael Guy Bowman:
So, like it or not, my signature song seems to be the country ballad made famous by a movie about how Nicolas Cage and John Cusack screw up absolutely everything and destroy the Las Vegas strip. Hence, for Volume 8, I decided to do a more serious version of “How Do I Live” that doesn’t mortify me entirely.
I always had thought of “How Do I Live” as a breakup song, so as an anthem of dependency between generic 90’s lovers I was underwhelmed. However, in Con Air it’s meant to be the love theme of a woman whose husband serves in the military, giving the song a very different meaning. The stakes are not whether the singer’s lover will stay or leave but whether they will live or die, a thought that is instantly more resonant for anyone who has been in love I think.
The trick to this one for me was cutting out all the bullshit really - the ridiculous key change is removed and the drums are minimal to the extent of sounding like a funeral march. Rather than starting off with chipper little electric organs and keyboards, this version takes a cue from “Purple Rain” and uses only electric guitar and vocals for the first minute. The vocals start off sounding a million miles away and are subtly brought closer and closer until the other instruments join in on the second verse.
I added a new bridge section in so that Thomas Ferkol could have a chance to play some real guitar in this one, and of course he showed his colors as a metal guitarist, sending me a duet between harmonized voices. David Ko also appears on this track as the gently-spoken backup vocalist.
Black Hole / Green Sun
Not much to say on this really except the title is kind of an ode to Soundgarden.
Mark J. Hadley:
Back when we knew Jade as just GG, I wrote the first part of Carefree Action as a possible upbeat strife theme for her. It never ended up getting used, but other people liked it, and eventually a remix of it (Carefree Victory) made it into the comic. The original was pretty short, so I lengthened it so that I could eventually get it onto an album. Like Sburban Reversal, I recommended it as a bonus track.
This track was only included with the album for a brief period of time before being removed without any acknowledgement. In all likelihood, this was just Toby Fox trying to tease people.